Injury Updates: Tanaka, Phelps, A-Rod

(Scott Iskowitz/Getty)
(Scott Iskowitz/Getty)

Got some injury updates to pass along on the off-day. Well, two injury updates and one suspension update, technically. They all come courtesy of Chad Jennings, George King, and Mark Feinsand.

  • Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) will throw some breaking balls (but not splitters) during his next bullpen session this week. He’s already thrown some curveballs and sliders on flat ground. “He played catch [Sunday] and he will be scheduled for another bullpen next week,” said Joe Girardi. “I am not sure what day it is. His next bullpen he will start to spin some stuff. He will throw some fastballs and some breaking balls … I am not sure he will throw a split. They talked about him spinning some curveballs. I am not sure he will throw a slider or what else he is going to throw.”
  • David Phelps (elbow) will be re-evaluated today. If all goes well, he could start throwing later this week. The original plan when he was placed on the disabled list called for Phelps to be shut down completely for at least two weeks, and today marks two weeks. Hopefully Phelps’ elbow checks out fine and he doesn’t need much more than a rehab game or two before rejoining the team.
  • This technically isn’t an injury update, but I guess it fits here. Alex Rodriguez has been working out in Miami and Los Angeles in preparation for a return next season. He’s hitting and performing fielding drills. You know, just in case you thought he was sitting on the couch these last few months.

Injuries will limit Yankees’ options when rosters expand in September

I had this post planned and ready to go for today’s off-day … then Chad Jennings posted something very similar over the weekend. Read his post, then come back to read my take.

Mitchell will be back next month. (Presswire)
Mitchell will be back next month. (Presswire)

Two weeks from today, teams will be able to call up extra players from the minors and expand their rosters to up to 40 players. The debate about September call-ups and whether it’s right to play the final month of the season with a different set of rules will fire back up, but I’m in favor of expanded rosters. The minor league season is over, give some guys a chance to come up and experience MLB life, and reward the teams with depth. That one team chooses to call up fewer players than another is their problem. The roster size limit is the same across the league.

At this moment right now, the Yankees only have seven players on the 40-man roster who are not in the big leagues and are actually healthy. The seven: LHP Manny Banuelos, RHP Matt Daley, RHP Bryan Mitchell, C Austin Romine, C Gary Sanchez, UTIL Zelous Wheeler, and OF Zoilo Almonte. Both OF Ramon Flores (ankle) and RHP Preston Claiborne (shoulder) are currently playing in rehab games in the rookie Gulf Coast League and could be healthy in time for the start of September.

RHP Jose Campos had Tommy John surgery and OF Slade Heathcott had knee surgery earlier this year, so they are definitely not call-up options. RHP Jose Ramirez went down with … something early last month. He has a long history of injury problems, though I’m not sure what’s wrong with him this time. Either way, he is out and has yet to resume pitching in rehab games. C John Ryan Murphy was placed on the Triple-A Scranton DL just last week after taking a foul tip to the face mask, which implies a concussion. No word on how long he will be out. Surely the Yankees will play it safe.

Daley, Mitchell, Romine, Wheeler, and Almonte all seem like locks to be called up in September, mostly because they were all up at different points earlier this summer. That gives the Yankees two extra arms, a third catcher, another utility guy, and a platoon outfielder. Claiborne will definitely come back up if he’s healthy in time. I don’t believe Sanchez or a healthy Flores will be called up but Banuelos is up for debate. Last month I would have said no way, but he’s pitched much better of late. Right now, at this moment in time, I think he would get called up even if it’s only to soak in the big league atmosphere, not pitch. The Yankees did that with Andrew Brackman back in the day.

Austin. (Presswire)
Austin. (Presswire)

It seems likely the Yankees will cut ties with Rich Hill and call up one of their younger lefty bullpen options like LHP Tyler Webb or LHP Jacob Lindgren come September, and I suppose Daley and/or Wheeler could be easily cut loose to clear more spots. Maybe they prefer Scott Sizemore to Wheeler or something. Calling up prospects who will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season is always a popular idea but it doesn’t happen all that often. The one times the Yankees have done it in recent years was with Romine and Murphy, and that was because they wanted to carry a third catcher in September. There is some risk to adding, say, Tyler Austin to the 40-man a few weeks before necessary, and teams are generally risk averse. The Yankees especially so.

Campos, Heathcott, and Ramirez are dead 40-man roster spots because of their injuries — Ramirez could return soon, obviously — limiting the team’s flexibility. They have the option of calling them up and transferring them to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man spot, but then you run the risk of having the player sit on the big league disabled list accruing service time next year if he has a setback over the winter or in Spring Training, or if his rehab just takes longer than expected. The only time I can remember the Yankees calling up an injured player for the sole purpose of putting him on the 60-day DL to clear 40-man spot was Justin Maxwell in 2011. He was not a prospect and no one cared about his service time. Calling up injured players and placing them on the 60-day DL is another one of those things we talk about that rarely happens.

So, unless the Yankees go against the grain to clear some 40-man spots, they only have five obvious September call-up candidates on the 40-man roster. Six if you count Banuelos, more if Claiborne and/or Ramirez and/or Murphy get healthy in time. Hill will probably turn into Lindgren or Webb as well. Only four of those extra players are position players and two of those four are catchers (assuming Murphy gets healthy), meaning if Joe Girardi wants to make wholesale changes in blowout games, he’ll still need to keep two or three regulars on the field. (Remember, they only have a three-man bench right now.) That’s not ideal, but that’s the way the roster works right now. Injuries have left the Yankees really short this year and that carries on down into the minors.

Greene’s success a product of recent player development changes

(Scott Iskowitz/Getty)
(Scott Iskowitz/Getty)

Since joining the rotation a little more than a month ago, Shane Greene has been arguably the Yankees’ best starting pitcher. The rookie right-hander has a 2.93 ERA (3.25 FIP) with good strikeout (21.4%) and excellent ground ball (55.3%) rates in seven starts and 43 innings, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down either. He’s made it very easy to forget his ugly five batter, three walk MLB debut out of the bullpen back in April.

The Yankees called on Greene last month because they really had no other choice. CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda were all hurt and Chase Whitley was crashing back to Earth. That was before Masahiro Tanaka went down too. Greene had mediocre Triple-A numbers overall (4.61 ERA and 3.41 FIP) but he had strung together a few strong starts, which was enough to get him a shot given the state of the rotation. He’s obviously taken advantage of the opportunity.

Greene’s path to the big leagues and pro ball in general was a rather unique, which makes his story and success that much more interesting and amazing. I’m going to save some time and quote myself from last winter’s prospect profile:

Greene was a mop-up man [at the University of West Florida] as a freshman … He blew out his elbow late in the season and had Tommy John surgery in May 2008 … The Argos took his scholarship away following the injury, so Greene transferred to Daytona Beach Community College. He didn’t pitch as a sophomore and wasn’t on the draft radar at all. Greene was throwing a bullpen session at his high school when he asked a Yankees scout (who was there to see someone else) to watch him throw and put in a good word with the University of Central Florida. The team ended up bringing him to Tampa for a workout three weeks before the 2009 draft … The Yankees liked what they saw during the workout enough to select him in the 15th round (465th overall) even though he had not pitched in an actual game in over a year.

Even if he crashes back to Earth in his next start or never throws another MLB pitch for whatever reason, the Yankees have already gotten a huge return on their investment in Greene. We’re talking about a late round pick who signed for only $100k, a relative pittance. Just getting a guy like that to the show — especially after drafting him even though he hadn’t pitched in a real game in a year due to injury — is a huge success.

Greene’s climb up the minor league ladder was not fast. He spent parts of two seasons with both Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, and it wasn’t until his sixth pro season that he reached Triple-A despite being a college draftee. Greene’s stuff improved as he got further away from elbow reconstruction but a general lack of control held him back. He had a 4.4 BB/9 (10.4 BB%) across two Single-A levels in 2011, then a 5.1 BB/9 (12.5 BB%) at High-A in 2012. Greene looked like a classic big arm, small command guy.

Then, last season, the now 25-year old Greene broke out with a 1.7 BB/9 (4.5 BB%) split between High-A and Double-A. Forget about cutting his walk rate in half, he cut it by almost two-thirds in an offseason. This year Greene has a 3.5 BB/9 (8.8 BB%) in Triple-A and a 2.9 BB/9 (7.7 BB%) in MLB. (The AL average is 2.9 BB/9 and 7.7 BB% this year, coincidentally.) That’s not as good as last year but it’s a major improvement from two or three years ago. That ability to harness his stuff and throw consistent strikes has taken Greene from interesting prospect to bonafide MLB rotation member.

There is no “the light bulb just came on” story here. Greene didn’t magically wake up one day with the ability to throw strikes with his mid-90s sinker and upper-80s slider. He cut his walk rate so much last year thanks to mechanical tweaks implemented by some of the Yankees’ minor league pitching gurus. George King (subs. req’d) explained last September:

Greene, 24, is armed with a 90-94 mph fastball, but it was an adjustment he made working with pitching coordinator Gil Patterson and Greg Pavlick, a senior pitching instructor, that helped him turn the corner.

“He was helped with the delivery where he kept his head more in line with the plate,” (VP of Baseball Ops Mark) Newman said. “He made a commitment to throw strikes and not throw the ball to the edge and nibble.”

Pavlick has been with the Yankees for more than a decade now, but Patterson is a relatively new hire. Well, a new old hire. He coached in the team’s minor league system from 2005-07 before leaving in 2008 for a similar position with the Athletics. The Yankees brought the very highly-regarded Patterson back and hired him away from Oakland in November 2012.

The club has gotten a lot of heat for their unproductive farm system over the last year or so, so much so that they essentially audited their staff and policies and implemented some procedural changes over the winter. In reality, the changes started both with the re-hiring of Patterson as well as the firing of long-time pitching honcho Billy Connors in September 2012. No personnel changes were made last winter, but two pretty big ones were made the year before.

There is no possible way of knowing how Greene would have developed without the help of Patterson (and Pavlick) — would he have made those same mechanical adjustments and improved his command anyway? Would he have never figured it out? Would he have done something else entirely and become even better than he is right now? We’ll never know. The timeline fits so wonderfully though. The Yankees bring back Patterson, he tinkers with the live-armed Greene, and suddenly he throws strikes and is awesome. It’s a great story, especially if it’s actually true.

Many fans, myself included, were underwhelmed and unhappy when the Yankees announced they were only making procedural changes to their player development system over the winter. After all, we don’t know what those changes are and we can’t actually see him at work, so they don’t really exist to us. The Patterson move flew mostly under the radar for the same reason: we don’t actually see him at work. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an impact though. He helped Greene clean up his delivery and get over some serious control problems, which has turned him into an important member of the MLB rotation. Every time he takes the mound, it is the organization’s recent player development changes at work.

Fan Confidence Poll: August 18th, 2014

Record Last Week: 2-3 (13 RS, 25 RA)
Season Record: 63-59 (481 RS, 518 RA, 56-66 pythag. record) 7.0 GB in ALE, 3.5 GB of WC
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, vs. Astros (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), vs. White Sox (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

DotF: Jagielo’s four hits help Tampa to a win

Triple-A Scranton (6-5 win over Pawtucket)

  • LF Jose Pirela: 1-5, 2 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 3-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K — 16-for-43 (.372), so he’s starting to heat back up after a little slump
  • CF Zoilo Almonte: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 HBP
  • 1B Kyle Roller: 0-4, 1 BB, 2 K
  • 3B Zelous Wheeler: 1-5, 2 RBI, 2 K – capped off the five-run ninth inning rally with a two-run go-ahead single
  • RF Taylor Dugas: 2-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB — started that ninth inning rally with a one-out walk
  • LHP Matt Tracy: 5.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 3/2 GB/FB — 63 of 98 pitches were strikes (64%)
  • RHP Brandon Pinder: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0/3 GB/FB — 13 of 17 pitches were strikes (76%)
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — ten of 13 pitches were strikes (77%) … 89/20 K/BB in 64.1 innings

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